Americans Look for Health on the Menu

Survey finds nutrition plays increasing role in dining-out choices

MONDAY, Oct. 17, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- While time, convenience and value remain the main determinants of Americans' choices when they eat out, concerns about healthy food have now moved up to fourth place, according to the results of a new consumer survey.

But diners with the healthiest eating styles also had the highest incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

"American adults just don't get serious about nutrition until serious illness sets in," said Christopher Malone, senior vice president of marketing for the ARAMARK food service company, which funded the study.

The report was to be presented Monday at NAASO, The Obesity Society's annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

In 2003, ARAMARK, which feeds 50 million Americans each day, found that people were becoming more diet-conscious. In order to maintain their market share, the company began to survey the habits, attitudes and perceptions of American adults related to nutrition.

They used the Internet to survey adults on more than 200 nutrition-related measures. The study was done again this year, when the company surveyed almost 5,300 people.

The survey uncovered six types of dining styles, Malone said. "These ranged from extremely nutrition conscious to those that were extremely indulgent, with several variations in between," he said.

These dining styles existed across all walks of life, from young to old, rich and poor, and among men and women and all races, Malone said.

Among the other key findings: watching weight and limiting fat intake continue to be common goals in choosing foods. However, the number of adults that say they are strongly attempting to do so is down to 29 percent from 33 percent.

Twenty-one percent of people are attempting to limit their intake of trans-fatty acids and 18 percent are limiting carbohydrates and artificial sweeteners in their diet. Those practicing the Atkins Diet have dropped significantly from 13 percent last year to just 8 percent this year.

In addition, people report exercising more often: 52 percent of adults report exercising twice a week, up from 48 percent a year ago. "This increase, and exercise in general, was mostly confined to the most nutrition-conscious groups," Malone said.

Satisfaction with healthy options available at casual dining restaurants went up to 34 percent compared with 22 percent a year ago, Malone said. Diners' satisfaction with fast food restaurants increased to 12 percent from 7 percent in 2004.

In addition, eating breakfast and dinner out grew by more than 27 percent: the average respondent ate breakfast away from home once a week and ate dinner out three times a week.

The most important factors when choosing where to eat out were time/convenience followed by value, the survey found. Variety slipped to the No. 3 spot while health consciousness moved up to No. 4, Malone reported.

One expert thinks that much still needs to be done to get Americans to eat healthier.

"We have a long way to go to reach dietary guideline recommendations, but some trends are a pleasant surprise," said Lona Sandon, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

It is no surprise that time and convenience rank high in making meal choices away from home, added Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. "People are more pressed for time, and health is on people's minds. Unfortunately, given the choice between health or convenience, most people will choose convenience," she said.

"Making people more aware of the many healthy and convenient foods now available in many fast food, casual dining restaurants, or take-out type delis will help them to choose both convenience and health," Sandon said.

More information

The U.S. government can tell you more about healthy eating out.

SOURCES: Christopher Malone, senior vice president of marketing, ARAMARK, Philadelphia; Lona Sandon, M.Ed., R.D.; spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association, assistant professor, clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; Oct. 17, 2005, presentation, NAASO, The Obesity Society's annual scientific meeting, Vancouver, Canada
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